“The movie nights with my parents… that was really the jumpstart to the whole thing,” is what Woody McClain remembers as his spark for wanting to be a star.
It was Eddie Murphy’s signature laugh on his family’s TV screen — and his mom revealing that she went to school with the living legend — that inspired McClain to receive the same reactions from his classmates. From a young age, the 33-year-old actor admittedly wanted to be liked by everyone, something he later carried with him into Hollywood.
The South Carolina-native set out on a journey to find his true purpose, which consisted of dabbling into various skill sets in search of his calling.
“For the longest, I did not know what I wanted to do with life,” he expressed. “I just was kind of living and just existing out here until I saw a beautiful movie called Drumline. And when I saw Drumline, I was like, ‘I need to go to an HBCU. I got to have this experience. I ended up joining my high school band, worked really hard, got a full scholarship to Florida A&M University and joined March 100: the best marching band in the land.”
However, dreams of becoming a band director didn’t stick, as Woody soon became inspired by a friend to become a professional dancer (and impress the ladies). Years later, he’d garner thousands of views on YouTube from showing off his moves. As a background dancer for Chris Brown, he ultimately moved to Los Angeles, where he landed his first small-screen role.
Although it seems as if the stars were always aligned for McClain, he’s made it clear that he’s always had to sharpen his tools to be the best at any position he played.
“I get a call from Fatima Robinson saying she wants me to come in to be the dance-double for Bobby Brown in the Whitney Houston movie,” he recalled of his first major opportunity. “And then three months later, she called me to go audition for The New Edition Story and I just fell in love. The love for acting was way more than all the other ones for sure. But I feel like God gave me so many tools along the way that prepared me to do what I was doing.”
Emulating the iconic R&B heartthrob in the biopic set the tone. Following the success of the BET original films, McClain went on to dominate roles in The Harder They Fall, Canal Street, and his recurring role of Cane in 50 Cent’s hit Starz series Power Book II: Ghost. Although creative apps like Vine gave him the tools to practice acting, editing, and even lip-syncing — he still could not have predicted what was to come.
McClain chatted with VIBE over Zoom, where he detailed his life in the spotlight as Cane Tejada on Power Book II: Ghost, and how he plans to save the world in more ways than one.
VIBE: As a Black actor who has played a controversial R&B singer and now the son of a drug queenpin, have any of your roles ever affected your mental health?
Woody McClain: Oh my god, absolutely. I know when I did the Bobby Brown movie, I took a year off just so I can find who Woody was again. ‘Cause I could have easily went on to become the young Bobby Brown after acting as Bobby Brown. But instead I just took a year off and traveled, and grounded myself again before I took on another character.
I wanted to honor the next character I play and Cane was the one that I came across. And with Cane, I’m still learning as I’m going. I’m always reaching out to OGs like, “How do you guys drop the character so fast?” But it’s a process and I’m still learning my process.
You ever feel like Cane on your off-days?
It depends. I think with Cane, I had to be very careful ’cause I didn’t want to go down a dark, dark hole. Showrunners, writers and I, were all able to come together and just build different relationships with other characters within the series, where it’s not so dark. That’s why I love the relationship between Cane and Brayden, because it’s not always so dark. It’s like Cane can be jokey a little bit, and now being introduced to Effie, I feel like we’ll see an even more different side of Cane.
I didn’t want people to think, ‘All this guy did was kill people and had no feelings.’ We really wanted to make Cane a full human being.
Is the role of Cane the best you’ve had thus far?
I never really judged him as like, “Oh, that’s the best one.” I can’t say it’s been my best role. Nah. I don’t think so.
What other roles would you like to play that you haven’t done yet?
I want to do some action. I’m going to do some action.
Like Marvel, DC, something like that?
It don’t matter. I just want to save the world. I’ve been in the gym. I’ve been getting these abs going, so when I take off my shirt, y’all can look and be like, “Okay, yeah, he can save me.” You know what I mean. I want people to look back and be like, “Wow, Woody save me.” I want to do a rom-com love story, so bad. I have a project called Explore that I really would want to do with Danielle Brooks. I want to get my Eddie Murphy on. I got to do it.
Who is Woody going to become in 10 years from now? Maybe 20? What will your story be?
My story? I just hope the people see the good within Woody McClain. Growing up, I hated when people did not like me. It was a real thing. If one of my classmates didn’t like me, I made it a point: “by the end of the year, this person would like me.” So going into playing roles that people like, I feel a way about that because I always come in it with love. I definitely want to play more characters that people actually love, that people actually care about. I want to save the world. Those are the things I really want to do.
If I have a scene that I’m like, “Ah, I don’t know if this is…” I can call somebody that’s lived that life before and be like, “How do you feel about this, bro?” And they will go down a rabbit hole of expressing how they feel and we would have these deep conversations and I would take all those things they give me and I would put it into that character.
Because of playing Cane, a lot of my friends that I grew up with reach out to me, like “Listen, bro. You are me up there. I want to say thank you. I see me in you.” You know what I mean?